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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, June 15, 2006


Opting Out of the "Base Wars"

posted by Dignan at Thursday, June 15, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
Big thanks to Aziz for asking me to join you guys here. I am a big believer in reasonable dialogue across the political spectrum. Unfortunately reasonable dialogue is becoming harder and harder to find. Hopefully, we can start turning the tide in the other direction.

(Originally posted at Dignan's 75 Year Plan)

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am and have always been a very idealistic person. I can remember in high school and college people telling me that I am too idealistic and assuming that it would wear off with age. Well, it hasn't. I'm in my mid-30s, married with two children and as idealistic as ever.

So you can imagine my dismay at many of the cynical reactions that I have received in response to my article last week about Ann Coulter. I guess I expected better from people in the conservative movement. I'm not sure why.

I am saddened by the inconsistency of so many in the conservative movement. For years, I have heard conservatives become outraged over the extreme rhetoric of leftist spokesmen such as Gore Vidal, Ward Churchill, Harry Belafonte, or Cynthia McKinney. Now I question the sincerity of such criticism. If Coulter's "hyperbole" is acceptable, then what is the substance of the criticism of the likes of Belafonte other than the fact that conservatives disagree with him?

I am even more saddened by the Christians who defend Coulter, particularly her remarks about the 9/11 widows. Whether or not the 9/11 widows are "exploiting their victim status" to make anti-Bush rants doesn't excuse Coulter's remarks about them. Whether she is correct or not doesn't make what she said right. Saying that these women enjoyed their husbands' deaths is unconscionable and is a sin. If I made such a public comment, I can guarantee that my church would rightfully call me out for it and ask for my repentance.

I Am A Liberal?
Perhaps the silliest comments I have received are
those from Fr. Japes of the New Pantagruel claiming that I am a closet liberal or those at Redstate claiming that I am a Kos Kid. You can't imagine the chuckles my friends get at such ludicrous claims.

Since when did I take some loyalty oath to never criticize anyone else who claims to be conservative? I am appalled at the implication these days that if one doesn't fall lock-step along with the freakin' conservative Pied Pipers, then one isn't a "real conservative".

Last I checked, conservativism was about IDEAS. Not personalities. Not political parties. Not administrations.

If agreeing with everything that comes out of the mouths of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh is a requirement to be a conservative, then I am out baby. That isn't loyalty. That is a cult of personality.

All Your Base Are Belong To Us
So what is going on here? Why does it appear that conservatives seem willing to sell out to the idea of "the ends justify the means"? The BASE.

It is all about the base. Over the past six years, it has become political gospel that the way to win elections is to play to the base and ignore those in the middle. This is pretty much Karl Rove's MO and it has worked. And the Democrats are copying this strategy as well. But to what end?

Well, unfortunately for conservatives, they elected a president who hasn't turned out to be particularly conservative. It is also obvious that this strategy is becoming more and more untenable. The "Base War" strategy assumes a "50/50" country. The problem with this strategy is that it doesn't take much of a slip to lose completely. Alienate your base and you are doomed.

And so how do we keep the base energized? With willing pundits like Coulter ready to throw raw meat to the team. I am just waiting for Coulter to claim that the Democratic Party is the party of Satan. Oops. I suppose she has already hinted at that.

And more unfortunately, this strategy has left many Americans feeling left out of the political process. Actually most Americans. Because the base of each party is actually quite small.

Every week I hear someone say that they feel like a man without a political party. I think many of you can sympathize with that. And this feeling isn't just based upon where each party stands on the issues. It is based upon concepts of civility, respect for others, and common goals.

Morris Fiorina and James Davison Hunter are both correct. It is a minority of Americans who are fighting this battle, this "culture war". It is time for the rest of us to opt out of this war.

The Game
I have had many people say to me over the years that I need to lose the idealism and just learn to play the game.

Well listen, I know how to play the game. I've been there, done that.

But I'm not going to do it anymore. The game is flawed. And most people know it.

I'm ready to change the game. With your help, I'm going to play a different game.

Now I am certainly not naive enough to think that we don't have real differences in this country. But I am naive enough to believe that we can discuss our differences without demonizing our opponents.

My blog is proof of this idea. Some of the staunchest conservatives I have ever met comment regularly there. Yet many liberals such as Expat Teacher, Faithful Progressive, gurufrisbee, and rjohnson contribute greatly to our dialogue there. Do we usually agree? Rarely. But I am pretty sure we have never had a flame-war there. And I have trememdous respect, even affection, for my liberal friends that are part of my blog. So I know that it can happen, this meeting of the Left and Right.

So I am looking for more teammates in the new game. Think you are up for the challenge? I urge you to join our conversation. We are going to change the game.




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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.